LETTER TO THE EDITOR: PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER

[This Letter was submitted but never published by the Inquirer - they did write back and say that although they felt it was a good letter they already printed three other letters responding to the article by Florio. Each reader should write to the paper and encourage them to continue to carry articles on what is taking place in Chiapas - Florio's article was actually quite good.]

2 June 1998

Letter to the Editor

I would like to commend The Philadelphia Inquirer for carrying the story on May 25, Life in Chiapas, by Gwen Florio.

Florio's article commented on the Zedillo government's current intensification of its low intensity warfare against the indigenous of southern Mexico, which now includes an attack on international observers in the area of Chiapas. Being one of those "international observers" recently deported from Mexico (17 February) I would like to briefly expand upon the importance of maintaining an international presence in Chiapas.

It should be clearly understood that the attempt to eliminate the internationals from Chiapas is based on two objectives of the Zedillo government. First, Zedillo seeks to establish and maintain control of the information and reporting coming out of Mexico with respect to the issues and events pertaining to the struggle in Chiapas. Second, with the removal of the international observers - the "eyes" of the international community - from the Peace Camps located in the Zapatista communities, the military and paramilitary groups will be able to operate with even greater impunity to further threaten the members of these communities in an effort to provoke them to take up arms. And everyone understands that if the Zapatistas were to respond with arms in any manner the Zedillo government would use this as the pretext to "justify" a swift military action to entirely eliminate the Zapatista base communities in an attempt to put an end to the Zapatista struggle.

To best illustrate these observations, the "official" story which was first put forward by the Zedillo government to "explain" the massacre on December 22nd of 45 unarmed refugees in Acteal (mostly women and children who were seeking protection inside a local church) was that the killings were the result of "family differences" - not explaining of course how one family was heavily armed with AK-47s and was able to carry out the massacre unhindered by any local police for over 5 hours, while the other family was unarmed and living as refugees in Acteal, having left their own communities weeks before with only the cloths on their backs. Without the international presence and their reporting on the actual events in Acteal the Zedillo "version" may have been accepted in the international community, it may have gone unchallenged. It should be noted that three weeks before the massacre in Acteal an international delegation of human rights observers visited the area and reported (to the press and the Zedillo government) that the daily threats (and assassinations) by the paramilitaries created a tension in the region which was so high that a "massacre" was imminent - the Zedillo government at that time claimed that these allegations were totally unfounded. Then following the massacre many international observers went into the community of Acteal and Polho to take testimonies from the survivors, who revealed the horrors of the event and identified those responsible. In the end, the Zedillo government was forced to acknowledge what the internationals were reporting, that the PRI party (the political party which Zedillo heads) was directly involved in funding the paramilitaries and enabling the the massacre.

It is also important to recognize that there was no Peace Camp with international observers in Acteal before the massacre, if there had been this community would most likely not have become a target of such a brutal attack. The international presence at the Peace Camps is essential, without it the level of violence against the communities will certainly increase, and more massacres will take place.

In light of this, I implore all those who can to go to Chiapas to do so. The best way I believe for most to go to Chiapas at this time would be with a delegation, such as the one being organized at this moment by the Mexican Solidarity Network which is to leave for Mexico in early July, or with a Global Exchange delegation. I would strongly suggest that anyone planning to go to Chiapas on their own should first discuss the necessary precautions and preparations for such a trip with someone who has recently returned. We must not be intimidated by the deportations - this is precisely what the Mexican government wants. For every person deported we must commit to send ten more to take their place.

We must also show the Mexican government, as well as all other governments who choose to oppress their own citizens, that we will not tolerate human rights violations. And we certainly can not allow governments to limit our right as concerned human beings to stand side by side in solidarity with those who seek our help, no matter where that may be - this would be a most dangerous precedent.

If one wishes, I can be contacted via e-mail at: res@scranton.com

Bob Schweitzer
Factoryville, PA